E15 and Infrastructure

This paper addresses the compatibility of E15 (15% denatured ethanol, 85% gasoline blendstock) with equipment at refueling stations. Over the last decade, a tremendous amount of work by refueling equipment manufacturers, industry groups, and federal agencies has resulted in a long list of equipment that can be used with E15. This report addresses compatibility through a literature review, a summary of applicable codes and standards, review of equipment manufacturer products, and verification with manufacturers regarding which ethanol blends work with their products. Over time, the refueling equipment manufacturers have improved their sealing materials for compatibility with a wide range of fuels. Upgrading materials in equipment improves consumer safety and reduces the risk of releases to the environment.

It is often stated that tanks cannot be used to store E15, but this assumption is incorrect as the majority of installed tanks can store blends above E10. For many decades, underground storage tank (UST) manufacturers for blends up to E100, for example, all steel tanks and fiberglass tanks since the year 1990. Manufacturers of pipe thread sealants (pipe dope) used in UST systems have stated that their products have been compatible with ethanol blends up to E20 for many years. For those tanks with low ethanol blend certifications, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Underground Storage Tanks (OUST) issued Guidance – Compatibility of UST Systems with Biofuels Blends in 2011 to enable alternative compliance with federal code as UST systems are in use for decades. This guidance allowed tank manufacturers to issue letters stating the compatibility of their tanks with specific ethanol blends. All existing tank manufacturers have issued such letters, and the majority of installed tanks are compatible with E15. Additionally, all existing pipe manufacturers have Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listing for E100.

A literature review going back 15 years was conducted to determine if there were any negative impacts during the multi-year deployment of E10 nationwide. No incidents of E10 causing releases (also referred to as leaks) from UST systems were identified. None of the reviewed literature noted any association between E10 and any specific UST release. The EPA OUST’s Performance Measures’ data on UST releases were reviewed, and as E10 was deployed nationwide, the trend was fewer UST releases. Anecdotal input solicited from infrastructure industry experts said that they knew of no published reports of releases caused by E10.

There are future opportunities for retailers to remove or replace their current equipment not necessarily related to continuous changes in motor fuel composition. Credit card companies are requiring retail fueling stations to update their dispensers to accept new chip and PIN secure credit cards by October 2017, at which time fraud liability would switch to station owners if they have not updated their equipment. This presents an opportunity to increase E25 UL-listed equipment through a retrofit kit if electronics are being upgraded to accommodate the new credit cards, or if a station owner must purchase a new dispenser, it could pay a minimal amount more for an E25 dispenser. If a new dispenser is purchased, this may also present an opportunity to upgrade to an E85 dispenser, but at significant additional cost.